Ramsey Clark, the former U.S. attorney general who went on to a career of far-left anti-American activism, is in Gaza this week to express his solidarity with the Hamas terrorists who rule the strip and opposition to any Israeli measure of self-defense against them. Normally when a Western pilgrim goes to Gaza to be manipulated by the Islamist regime there, we tend to think that it is the visitor who is discredited by his willingness to associate with an organization of ruthless killers. But perhaps in this case, it is Hamas that should be worried about being tainted by Clark’s friendship.
After all, though Clark was a civil-rights-enforcement lawyer in the Justice Department in the 1960s, his legal work since then has specialized not just in the defense of mass murderers but also in the support of them. While anyone, even killers, is entitled to a lawyer, Clark’s bizarre animus toward his own country has led him to be the mouthpiece for Saddam Hussein, Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, Liberian warlord Charles Taylor, and Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, a leader of the Rwanda genocide. In these cases, Clark didn’t just seek to undermine the prosecution of the killers; he tried to rationalize their homicidal actions. Among the notably unsavory beneficiaries of Clark’s good offices were Nazi war criminals Karl Linnas, the commandant of the Tartu concentration camp in Estonia, and Jack Riemer, a Nazi concentration-camp guard. He also defended the Palestinian Liberation Organization against a lawsuit brought by the family of Leon Klinghoffer, the crippled American Jew who was murdered by terrorists on the Achille Lauro cruise ship.
While Hamas is always glad to welcome any Western fool who will pose for pictures with its leaders, perhaps in this case it is the Islamist group, which actively seeks to convey the false image that it is composed of victims rather than the killers they truly are, that ought to be worried by Clark’s embrace. Does Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas political leader who welcomed Clark to Gaza, really want the world to associate him with the likes of Saddam, Milosevic, or Taylor, even if such comparisons are entirely appropriate? Then again, though the prospect that Hamas’s chiefs will be brought to the bar of justice for their numerous crimes seems remote at the moment, perhaps it is never too early for them to make sure that Clark is on call for the moment when he can add them to his roster of murderous clients.
Much like the man who gave it, President Obama’s speech on Iraq was many things to many people. It was a paean to Americans in uniform, a bone tossed to Bush-nostalgic conservatives, a placeholder for Afghanistan hawks, a pacifier for the anti-war Left, and, clumsily, an acknowledgment of Americans worried about the economy. Much like the man who gave it, the speech was too irresolute to signify anything other than America’s ambivalence on the world stage. According to Obama, the Iraq war was at once a mistake and a success. In Afghanistan, we will both fight and leave (as if he has not given a second’s thought to the damage his confusion on this point has already done). For all the president’s talk of “turn[ing] the page,” he is stuck in the extended paradox of his own contradictions.
Not surprisingly, the most revealing part of the speech came in the form of a seemingly negligible aside, not a strategically inconclusive talking point. Obama said, “In an age without surrender ceremonies, we must earn victory through the success of our partners and the strength of our own nation.” Reread the first part of that sentence. What reason is there to think we have passed into an age without surrender ceremonies? Barack Obama believes this because he assumes that mankind is now so modern and reasonable that we are outside the vast breadth of history. Nations will never formally go to war again and will not get caught up in pre-21st-century anachronisms like “victory” and “surrender.” For Barack Obama, an old-fashioned victory is as quaint as a duel at 20 paces. This unjustified optimism is not a historically new phenomenon among academics and has invited exploitation by tyrants throughout the modern age. (We need only look to the post–Cold War gambits of Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein to disprove the contention.)
To wit: the single mention of the word “victory” in a speech acknowledging the successful conclusion of a remarkable American military effort came in a bid to redefine the term as a universalist construct. If only the world’s bad actors would agree to do the same, this would prove to be a speech for the ages.
cross-posted at Middle East Journal
“If Yugoslavia was the laboratory of Communism, then Communism would breathe its last dying breath here in Belgrade. And to judge by what [Slobodan] Milosevic was turning into by early 1989, Communism would exit the world stage revealed for what it truly was: fascism, without fascism’s ability to make the trains run on time.” – Robert D. Kaplan
“You bombed my country.” These were the nearly first words I heard after clearing passport control on arrival in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, from a taxi driver who flagged me down inside the airport. “Fifteen countries bombed my country.”
I didn’t know what to say. Neither did my American friend and traveling companion Sean LaFreniere.
“Why are you here in Serbia?” the driver said.
“We’re tourists,” I lied. I didn’t want to say I was an American journalist on a trip through the former Yugoslavia with an end destination in Kosovo. Serbia’s last war of ethnic-cleansing was fought there, and it only ended when NATO, led by the United States, bombed Belgrade’s tyrant Slobodan Milosevic into submission. That was nine years ago, but just three months ago Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. A mob of Serbian nationalists answered by fire-bombing the American embassy. The U.S. responded by evacuating its non-essential employees.
“If people ask what two tourists are doing here,” the driver said, “where you are from, you say you’re from Holland.”
Read the rest of the post here.
Often, when the U.S. is about to take some tough step abroad, advocates of a softer line will argue that unnecessary toughness will simply alienate foreign countries that might otherwise be friendly to us. We’ve heard endless variations of that line by those who favor withdrawal from Iraq and accommodation, rather than confrontation, with Iran, Russia, China, and other states.
It was also an argument often heard against the move to recognize Kosovo’s independence. After the U.S. and its allies went ahead, there were many dire predictions that the result would be a takeover by ultra-nationalists in Serbia. In other words, we would gain Kosovo but lose Serbia.
It didn’t work out that way in the most recent Serbian elections. As reported by the Financial Times:
The pro-European Union alliance led by Boris Tadic, Serbia’s president, won the advantage over hardline nationalists in snap elections on Sunday as voters demanded EU integration despite the loss of Kosovo.
The pro-EU list captured 38.7 per cent of votes and won 103 seats in the 250-seat parliament. The nationalist Radical party took 29.1 per cent and 77 seats, according to the Centre for Free Election and Democracy (CESID), an independent monitoring group.
That comforting result calls to mind how Serbia became democratic in the first place. It was part of the fall-out from the 1999 war waged by NATO to stop Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Slobodan Milosevic was forced to concede defeat in that confrontation with the West, and not long thereafter he fell from power. In the case of Serbia, at least, tough Western actions–including repeated refusals to accommodate hard-line Serbian nationalists–have paid off. Is there perhaps a lesson here for other parts of the world?
Jacques Vergès is a lawyer—a lawyer who makes Lynne Stewart seem like Atticus Finch. At the conclusion of Barbet Schroeder’s new documentary on Vergès, Terror’s Advocate, snapshots of a handful of his clients appear on the screen. It’s not a pretty list: Vergès has served as legal counsel for Slobodan Milosevic, Klaus Barbie, Carlos the Jackal, and Tariq Aziz, to name a few. A die-hard radical born to a Vietnamese mother and French father, Vergès cut his teeth defending members of the Algerian National Liberation Front. From there, supposedly in the name of anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism, he has represented and associated with a smorgasbord of terrorists, Nazi-sympathizers, Islamists, dictators, and thugs.
It is to Schroeder’s great credit that his documentary avoids grandstanding and allows the viewer to come to his own conclusions about its subject. One might have expected this to be the case: Schroeder’s previous films include General Idi Amin Dada (1974), a fascinating and poker-faced examination of the psychopathic Ugandan dictator.
Whereas Idi Amin came across in the earlier film as creepily genial and unhinged, Vergès seems smug and self-important. As he chirpily recaps his career for the camera, he appears utterly oblivious to its moral dubiousness. And no wonder: At one point in the film, a good friend of his claims that Vergès would blithely be a terrorist himself, except for the fact that such a career wouldn’t allow him to indulge in his expensive tastes.
The end result is an engaging and disturbing documentary that investigates the relationship between revolutionary idealism and moral odiousness.
The day after President Bush delivered a speech on the Middle East calling for the total isolation of Hamas, Italy’s Foreign Minister, Massimo D’Alema, delivered a scathing reproach to this strategy. D’Alema called instead for dialogue with Hamas, “a real force,” in his words, “representing a large section of the Palestinian people.” D’Alema, a true democrat, is concerned that the West is shunning a legitimately elected organization.
This is the same D’Alema who, in 1999, while Prime Minister of Italy, ordered his country’s military to join the air campaign against the democratically elected leader of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic. Had Milosevic been Palestinian and a Hamas leader, would D’Alema have advocated dialogue instead?
Last year we had to endure James Baker, one of the chief culprits for the genocide in Bosnia, lecturing the Bush administration about Iraq. Now Douglas Hurd, his British counterpart in the early 1990′s, calls for a British equivalent of the Baker-Hamilton report—an inquiry that would ask the question: “How did we [the British] follow the Americans in this gross miscalculation of what would happen after the fall of Saddam Hussein?” Hurd insists that “this would not be a ‘trial of Tony Blair,’” but his denial rings hollow. “Under our next prime minister we have to learn again what we have forgotten: the art of working with the United States as an effective junior partner capable of independent thought, and of ensuring that reasonable advice is listened to, and that eventual questions are answered.”